HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH
September 15-October 15, 2011
Remarks for VA Officials
It is an honor to take part in celebrating a group of Americans that embody the
spirit of America. This year’s theme is “Many Backgrounds, Many Stories…One
American Spirit.” A spirit built on family, patriotism, religion and hard work.
The contributions of Hispanics to the development and success of this Nation are
like the stitches in a patchwork quilt. To envision America untouched by Latinos is
to imagine a country without much of its folklore and many of its achievements.
These Americans represent rich heritages, strong values and a diversity that
helped create a strong nation. Today and this month we celebrate Hispanic
Americans and their contributions to our country.
Reflecting the rich cultural diversity of the American people, Hispanic Americans
have shaped and strengthened our country. As members of the Armed Forces,
brave Hispanic men and women have fought and died to defend the United
States in every war since the American Revolution, many serving before
becoming American citizens. Hispanics have contributed to all aspects of our
national life, from the Supreme Court and halls of Congress to police officers, first
responders, teachers and mentors who protect our neighborhoods and guide
Several famous firsts for Hispanic Americans: In 2009, Judge Sonia Sotomayor
became the first Supreme Court Justice of the United States; U.S. Army General
Richard E. Cavazos became the army’s first Hispanic four-star general in 1982;
in 1991, Ellen Ochoa became the first female Hispanic astronaut; and in 1975,
Rita Moreno became the first Hispanic American (and the second person ever) to
have won an Oscar, a Grammy, a Tony, and an Emmy.
We in the Department of Veterans Affairs are well acquainted with Hispanic
contributions to our Nation’s defense and security. We serve a population of
more than one-million Hispanic veterans proud of their heritage and deeply proud
of their military service. To date, 43 Hispanic Americans have earned the Medal
of Honor. Today, more than 125,000 Hispanic Americans serve in the Armed
Forces, about 11 percent of our active duty force.
A major part of that preparation is building a work force that reflects the diversity
of our Nation and its veterans. VA is working hard to recruit, develop and retain
skilled men and women of all backgrounds and cultures dedicated to our special
mission. We continue efforts to recruit qualified Hispanics for VA career
opportunities. VA’s employment of Hispanics increased from 6.50 percent at the
end of fiscal year (FY) 2009 to 6.75 percent at the end of FY 2010. Hispanic men
have a lower than expected participation rate at the GS 12–14 pay levels and
Hispanic women have a low participation rate at the GS 12–SES pay levels.
VA is also very fortunate to have many Hispanic Americans serving as role
models of leadership and unity here at VA. They serve as doctors, nurses, claims
adjudicators, medical center and regional office directors and senior executive
service members in top leadership positions.
Today, we honor the heritage and values of a special group; people we value
because of the unique gifts they bring to our society. Together we are building a
future based on appreciating and understanding the things that make us unique.
Those differences are our strength as a nation and as an organization.
During the months of September and October, we pause to celebrate the vast
contributions that more than 50 million individuals have made to our Nation --
from its inception to its latest chapters. We are also proud of our Hispanic
leaders and employees in VA. We will continue to enhance our recruitment
outreach and retention efforts to ensure there are no barriers to the full
participation in the VA workforce of this important segment of our society.
Thank you for joining me today to honor our Hispanic veterans, co-workers,
volunteers and fellow citizens who add so much to our lives as Americans.